Growing up, most young hockey players dream of the same thing. They want to play in the Stanley Cup Finals and hoist the elusive Cup over their heads in front of thousands of fans. Not everyone that makes it into the NHL gets to achieve this goal, but for those that do it’s an experience they’ll remember forever. Before some players find themselves chasing the Stanley Cup, they start in the American Hockey League. There they chase the Stanley Cup’s younger brother, the Calder Cup.
During the 2012-2013 season, the Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL affiliates of the Detroit Red Wings, came out on top in the race for the Calder. It was an exciting moment for a team where not many members had hoisted the Calder Cup before. But it was even more exciting for Luke Glendening, a rookie born and raised in Grand Rapids.
“It was pretty awesome. A lot of people play their whole careers and don’t have the opportunity to do that,” Glendening said. “It was really neat for our team. We had a really close team and the leaders really carried us through. Things got rough a little bit in the playoffs.”
The Griffins were not a team everyone expected to come out on top going into the postseason. You have to win 15 to hoist the cup in the AHL. On the way to the ultimate win, the Griffins had to play 24 total games, losing 9 before finally winning the game that mattered.
“I don’t know if we ever felt like the underdogs. I think we felt that we had something to prove. We made it difficult on ourselves, that’s for sure,” said Glendening. “Every time we were close to clinching, we would lose a game and have to play a game 6 or 7. I think we felt fine until we got to the Finals. We were kind of the underdogs there a bit.”
Glendening has not had his day with the Calder Cup. He gets it on August 23rd and has not yet figured out what he’s going to do. Having been born and raised in Grand Rapids, the Cup has already been all around his hometown. It was a very interesting situation for Glendening to play professional hockey where he grew up.
“There are good parts and bad parts. I love being able to walk around when we’re home and see so many familiar faces. That was special and it was special to be able to win a championship in the city where I was born and raised,” Glendening said. “At the same time, I haven’t traveled that often. I love going new places. Fortunately, we travel a lot with our schedule and I’ve been able to visit different places.”
Before joining the Red Wings organization this past season, Glendening played his college hockey at the University of Michigan. It might not seem like the most traditional path to take to play college hockey. But it ended up working out really well for him.
“They were actually the only school that gave me the opportunity to play hockey. It definitely wasn’t a bad option,” Glendening said. “I went out east for boarding school for a year and they were recruiting two kids on my team and they offered me a preferred walk on spot. It was the only school in the nation that was willing to offer me even that position. I couldn’t resist.”
It was not a surprise to him that he was not highly recruited heading into college. People have cautioned him throughout his career that he might not have what it takes to continue playing hockey. He is just thankful that the path he took has given him these opportunities.
“It was something that I wanted to pursue but a lot of people told me I probably would never make it. I kind of took a different path than most people. Here I am though and somehow we all end up in the same spot,” Glendening said. “I definitely have no regrets. I’ve learned a lot along the way. There’s been trials and tribulations, but I feel blessed to have the opportunities that I’ve had.”
This path that he has taken earned him a contract with the team that he grew up watching. As is the case with many players making the jump to pro hockey from college, the biggest adjustment for him was simply the number of games. Especially considering the length of the run the Griffins had going to the playoffs, it was well over twice the games in a normal college season. But there were good parts as well.
“I think just the amount of games was the biggest difference. I played over a 100 games this year in comparison to the 40 I played in college,” Glendening said. “I liked it a lot more in that I didn’t have to worry about school or the exam I had the next day when I had a big game as well. That was nice, I liked the free time I had (this year). I feel like I was able to enjoy myself a little more.”
In June of 2012, after finishing his time at the University of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Griffins signed Glendening to an AHL contract for the coming season. He ended up spending 27 games in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleyes while he adjusted to the difference in the pro game. It was a time he was really thankful for going forward.
“I really learned how to be a pro. It’s doing the little things that it takes like working out after practice. I think that’s huge and it was integral to my development as a player,” said Glendening. “I learned a lot from the coaches there and the other players there. I think that was huge in my development and I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t played there.”
When he was called up to Grand Rapids, he was really excited to get back to his hometown and have his shot at the AHL. He definitely made the most of his chance and really came alive during the Griffins playoff run. He exploded for 16 points during the 24 game playoff run and was a valuable member of the team. His play got him noticed by the Red Wings, who offered him a one-year, two-way contract for the upcoming season.
“I’m excited for the opportunity, it’s a dream come true to sign with the team that I’ve been watching my whole life,” Glendening said. “It might be a long shot for me to play a game with them this year. It’s an opportunity and it’s a foot in the door. I’m going to make the most of it.”
No matter how much of a long shot it is, Glendening hopes to make it into a game with Detroit one day. For now, he will settle on working on his game. With a pro season under his belt he has a better idea of what parts of his game need work. He knows the importance of hard work when it comes to playing hockey.
“First and foremost, I need to work on my skating. That’s what they told me the most about is making sure my skating gets a little better,” said Glendening. “Then I think your game can always improve. My hands, my shot, and my consistency are things I need to work on.”
Throughout his career, Glendening has tried to make the most of the chances that he’s been given. It comes from an early start both skating and playing hockey. He was grown up with this and started so early, he doesn’t entirely remember it.
“My mom said I was on roller skates at 18 months and that’s her story. I think it’s true, that’s what I’ve heard her say,” Glendening remembered with a laugh. “I started playing hockey when I was around 5. I don’t really remember those days though.”
When it comes to shaping a career, any given hockey player can probably point to a number of different people that had an impact. A lot of players get support from their parents when it come to driving to practices and away games. Glendening is no different in being thankful for everything his parents have done. But for him, the support has gone even farther.
“My parents were the ones who stood behind me when people said I was never going to make it. I’ve had coaches who have had great influences on my life. They’ve taught me the game and what it means to be a hockey player,” Glendening said. “But my parents have stuck with me through thick and thin. They’ve believe in me even sometimes when I didn’t believe in myself.”
While hockey definitely takes up a lot of time, he still feels like he has a good amount of down time as well. Since Glendening is playing professionally now as opposed to playing in college, he doesn’t have to worry about a class schedule on top of hockey. So in the time he’s not playing hockey, he’s got a few things he focusing on.
“I have a dog so I take her to the park a lot. I spend a lot of time catering to her because she just turned a year. This past season was a bit trying at times. I also like to read,” said Glendening. “In the summer I love to fish and I love to go to the beach.”
We found out that not only does Glendening have a dog that’s young, but his dog, Lucy is a Great Dane. Being in Grand Rapids, there is a lot of travel associated with the schedule. The teams that the Griffins play are not all that close by as the teams in the northeast are. So, what made him decide on such a big dog and how does he manage on road trips?
“I saw the movie 7 Pounds and thought that was a cool dog, so I really wanted one. I always wanted a dog in college but my parents are right and it would have been way too much work,” said Glendening. “I wouldn’t be able to take care of her by myself but my parents have been great. They take care of her when I go on the road.”
With the summer quickly coming to a close, Glendening is getting ready to join the Red Wings organization for a second year. Although he feels like NHL is still just a dream, he will be working hard to continue to improve his game. One thing is for sure, he has never let someone tell him he couldn’t follow his dream of playing hockey and that isn’t something he’s going to start doing now.